The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
Our Journey to
“Welcoming Congregation” Status
Our first step Spring 2010 was to distribute several surveys during Sunday services and on the listserv to take inventory of our own attitudes and comfort levels. The survey results gave us some information about where we as a congregation stand and what we might benefit from working on further. What we found, of course, is that we are already a pretty welcoming group, but that we still have some work to do.
By Summer 2010, two Sunday programs were dedicated to “Welcoming Congregation” work. In June UUFS member and GSU counselor Kim Rowan-Bender presented a “Safe Space” workshop. The picture below was taken after that service.
And in August, Spencer Wulwick of the Georgia Equality Project visited our fellowship and presented a talk on supporting BLGTQ relationships.
In the fall, we began a series of workshops that take us through the UUA curriculum laid out in the “Welcoming Congregation Handbook.” All members were asked to attend at least one workshop. Here are a list of the workshops, leaders, and dates.
Workshop 1 – “Introductions and Expectations” led by Dee Liston and Teresa Winn
August 22, 2010
Workshops 3 and 5 – “The Common Elements of Oppression” and “Racism and Homophobia” led by Shari Barr and Linda McQueen.
October 10, 2010
Workshops 2 and 4 – “What we know and how we learned it” and Gender Socialization and Homophobia” led by Beth Butterfield and Chris Booker
October 17, 2010
Workshops 7 & 8 – “The Radical Right” and “Religion and Homosexuality” led by Jane Page, Rev. Francis Johnson (pastor of an African American Baptist Church) and Fred Richter (lay leader at an Episcopal Church).
November 14, 2010
Workshops 11 & 13 – “Bisexuality and Biphobia” and “How Homophobia Hurts us All” led by Shari Barr, Laura Milner and Dixie Aubrey.
January 23, 2011
Workshop 6 –“HIV/AIDS” featuring a personal message entitled “God is Love” shared in our worship service by Chis Johnson, a gay man who is “positive” in more ways than one!
February 13, 2011
The picture below was taken after this service:
Workshop 9 – “Experiences of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and/or Transgender People” led by a panel of students from the Gay Straight Alliance at Georgia Southern.
March 20, 2011
Workshop 12 – “Transgender Identity: What it Means” led by Jane Page featuring Barbara Davison and transgender students from Georgia Southern’s Gay Straight Alliance.
April 17, 2011
Workshop 14 –“What Now?” led by Dee Liston and Chris Booker
May 15, 2011
While most of us probably already consider ourselves to be welcoming people and the UUFS to be a welcoming place, actually taking the time to go through this series of workshops has given each of us the opportunity to learn more, reflect further, examine our assumptions, and raise our consciousness. In addition to these workshops, Rev. Jane was able to weave the theme into many of her sermons. Additionally, the Welcoming Congregation sponsored other events including:
Standing on the Side of Love Award Banquet
First Annual “Standing on the Side of Love Award”given to Dr. Fred Richter
February 12, 2010
Award recipient Fred Richter (3rd from right) with his partner Bobby and the Standing on the Side of Love Banquet planning committee.
A Wedding Reception for two of our members!
Two End of the Semester Socials for Georgia Southern’s Gay Straight Alliance at the home of Rev. Jane Page. The picture below shows students in front of the Standing on the Side of Love Banner.
Our last event on our journey to “Welcoming Congregation” status is a special worship service on August 28 with our District Executive Annette Marquis sharing a message with us. That service will be immediately followed by a meeting of the congregation held for the purpose of voting on the committee and board’s recommendation that we submit our formal application to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
In the UUA’s “Welcoming Congregation Handbook,” the authors describe something called “heart-lag.” This is when you find yourself in one of those situations where rationally, you might think of yourself as fully committed to being welcoming/open/tolerant, but you are surprised to find yourself having an emotional reaction you didn’t expect and that is out of synch with your “head.” Most of us have probably had this experience, in which the “heart” lags behind. The workshops and events since we began in the Spring of 2010 give us a beautiful opportunity to look deeper and learn more, to get our hearts and heads where we want them to be. We now have a better understanding that “Welcoming Congregation” is not in name, but also the result of a lot of work and an on-going genuine commitment.
Dee Liston’s Summary of our Work and Some Resulting Activities Published in the August 2011 Newsletter
The final Welcoming Congregation Workshop titled, “What next?” was held in May. Those gathered for the workshop reviewed the conversations of the previous workshops in order to assess what we have learned and how we have changed as a congregation. In many ways, this series of workshops served to extend the values and behaviors we already had in place. But, some new understandings and actions have resulted from our engagement in the Welcoming Congregation Workshops.
Our workshop in May assessed changes on the individual level, changes within our congregation, and changes in our community. On the individual level, those at the workshop noted that they had gained increased awareness regarding BGLTQ issues. Changes ranged from becoming aware how heterosexist assumptions are embedded in our language (learning to ask “do you have a partner or significant other?” rather than “are you married?”), to being aware of how presuming that everyone is “straight” is akin to ascribing greater value to heterosexuality, to increased acceptance and understanding of transgender concerns.
On the congregational level, the workshop assessed our desire to document our process and move forward as a more Welcoming Congregation. First and foremost, we noted the need to document our journey through pictures and a web-based archive. Secondly, those at the workshop affirmed the preparedness of our congregation to hold an official congregational meeting and vote on our desire to obtain the official designation as a Welcoming Congregation (August 28th at 11:30am). Also, we discussed a need to share more of “who we are” as a congregation with others who use our building. This may entail developing more building use policies to uphold our UU principles, or just increasing the use of signs and symbols in the sanctuary and building grounds to highlight our values. Using our building to highlight our commitment to “Standing on the Side of Love” and creating a welcoming environment for BGLTQ people (and, of course, “all who are open to all”) seems a logical step in living our values as a congregation. And finally, our minister noted that because of these workshops, she can offer even greater pastoral care to an even wider array of people in need.
On the community level, our workshop noted how the Welcoming Congregation Workshops have stimulated opportunities for involvement and action. First, members of our congregation have started a Bullying Support Group for high school students (see Chris Booker if you want to help this group keep the ball rolling). We hope that this Bullying Support Group can open the door for a Gay Straight Alliance for high school students in our area. And finally, the Welcoming Congregation Workshop discovered a desire to open our building to an AA group that is officially designated as “welcoming to all” (the Love & Tolerance AA meeting is held Mondays at 7:30pm in the UUFS Building).
The Welcoming Congregation Workshops changed us. We moved individually and collectively from a general belief in the inclusion of BGLTQ people as “of course part of those having human dignity,” to a stronger commitment to making sure our expressions and behaviors welcome and make room for diversity, to consideration of what we can do to take some actions that move ourselves, our congregation and our community toward greater fulfillment of this commitment.
We will hold a congregational vote to affirm our commitment to becoming officially designated as a Welcoming Congregation on August 28th in a Congregational Meeting starting at 11:30am.
LETTER OF RECOGNITION FROM UUA – dated December 14, 2011